Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Jan.  9, 2006)

A Win Win Crime Strategy

  By John Martin

Here we are in early January and no doubt many people are hard at work trying to stick to their New Year’s Resolutions.  Every year countless people vow to quit smoking, go on a diet, start exercising and make other healthy life style choices.

How ironic then, that we go out of our way to encourage addicted offenders to maintain their destructive and anti-social life style.  As fast as the police can arrest them, the courts set them free, knowing full well they’ll offend and score again in a matter of hours.  Or less.

There are world class treatment strategies in Canada’s penitentiaries.  Unfortunately, you pretty well have to kill someone to get the minimum two year sentence that would send you to such an institution.

More likely, the addicted chronic offender convicted of robbery, theft or trafficking is going to be sent to a provincial lock up for a sentence of less than sixty days.  Chances are he’s been there and done that a dozen or more times.  The inmate will watch TV, play cards and soon return to the same old same old.

Consider also, what happens when someone is given a substantial sentence of more than two years.  Because the Government of Canada has mandated that offenders be released as soon as legally possible, regardless of how a person serves their time, there’s little incentive to seek treatment.  There’s no requirement that drug addicted offenders undergo treatment in order to qualify for early release.  Even a first year psychology student understands that we can encourage motivation through the reward system.  

So ultimately, many such offenders realize it’s easier and less stressful to do their time while under the influence.  Drugs are always plentiful in the prison system and corrections workers are significantly restricted in their ability to undertake invasive searches of visitors.  You can thank Trudeau, Chrétien and the Charter for that one.

This is what makes the Conservative’s crime platform such a welcome announcement.  Among numerous other common sense proposals, Stephen Harper has vowed to end statutory release.  This is the legislation that mandates everyone except the most dangerous offenders (and many of them qualify anyway) be released after having served two thirds of their sentence.  Instead, inmates would have to earn early parole.  How’s that for an incentive?  The security announcement also calls for an end to conditional sentences for specific drug offences and authorizes minimum periods of custody for others.

There is nothing humane or compassionate about constantly returning addicted offenders to the streets without any semblance of treatment.  Providing zero incentive for them to participate in their own rehab is the height of irresponsibility.  Such practices benefit no one and only encourage repeated drug use and criminality.  And they further endanger the public.

Not everyone is ecstatic about the platform.

A number of prominent defense attorneys have already attacked Harper’s plans.

That alone, should tell you the Conservative leader is making the right move.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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